Tuesday, November 9, 2010

the sleepover streaker

I love the parent who told me this story. She and her husband are involved and engaged parents of three children, all teens. The moral of this particular story is that good kids of good parents from good communities do stupid things. So for parents who think, not my kid, not my kid's friends, this is for you.

These parents host a sleepover for five 12-year-old boys. Already she is a saint in my book. She and her husband stay up as long as humanly possible given how exhausted they are, go off to bed, hoping and praying the boys at the worst will be looking up porn on the Internet. While the parents were snug and asleep a few floors away a different scenario was brewing. This story was relayed to the parent the next day by a gutsy college student they have living with them. Apparently a dare was put on the table that someone strip down naked and streak down a very main drag of this suburban community.  It was 1:30 AM. The reward for the volunteer streaker would be a pay day of $5 per boy, yielding a grand total of $20! I guess a good thing is that kids still see value in $20 these days. The boy who stepped up to the plate was the sleepover host. So all the boys sneak out of the house, which actually is not that hard since all you need to do is open the door and walk out. They meander over to the main road, and let the streaker loose. And that was that. No sirens, no drama, no front page story about a scandalous episode of teenage streaking, just a bunch of kids walking the streets late at night four of them clothed, one naked.

So what's the problem? No one was hurt, nothing bad happened, and a story that will live on through many high school reunions was born. Exactly, that night nothing happened. Whew!!! Hear the parental sigh of relief, because of course as adults we are thinking about everything that could have happened. At the least a potential arrest by the local police and subsequent embarrassing notice in the local newspaper's weekly police beat;  or at the worst a crazy driver, or a group of kids out driving late, or a child predator just happens along at the streaking hour and grabs the kid. Or and this is an important one, if these kids had not gotten caught, they would have learned an important lesson. Its easy to get away with stuff during sleepovers! Today it was streaking, but once the "wow, that was easy" sets in, the sky is the limit.  Because we know that teens are impulsive, risk-seeking, and fun-loving, as they get older and the drive for fun gets stronger, the ante goes up to sneaking and drinking, sneaking and sex, sneaking and leaving to party, and so on, and the danger and safety factor also increases.

Of course, when mom and dad uncovered this sleepover streaker caper, they were furious, and incredulous, screaming the parent mantra of "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?" And here in lies the problem, THEY WERE NOT THINKING! What we call sequential thinking , the ability to think in steps and consequences does not come naturally to teens. That frontal cortex that is responsible for that work is not fully built. So in the war between the emotional center of the brain (which is in very high activation in the teen years and is screaming "this will be awesome") and the thinking center of the brain (maybe something bad will happen) ...awesome wins out.

Here is the takeaway from this story. First and most obvious is supervision during sleepovers.  Staying up till midnight, and thinking the worst is over, is just naive. Go to bed when you need to, but make sure you set your alarm for  90 minute intervals, and step into the fray that is the sleepover. You tell the kids in advance:"Hey guys, I just want to let you know that I am an insomniac, can't sleep, up and down the stairs all night long, trying to tire myself out, I hope I won't disturb you. Believe me they will get the message. And that gives your kid an out when another kid(of course not your kid)  starts to hatch a plan. He/she can simply say, we can't my mom or my dad are up all the time and they'll catch us.

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